The Ashti Lift irrigation scheme in Marathwada, a Rs1,046 crore project that can provide a direct link between a beneficiary firm and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar in the multi-crore irrigation scam, is now under the scanner of the Devendra Fadnavis-led state government. The project, part of the Krishna Marathwada scheme, on paper, aims to lift 23.66 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) water (45% of live storage of the dam ) from Ujjani dam in Solapur to drought-hit Osmanabad and Beed districts of Marathwada. The dam, however, has no surplus water. The scheme is the third phase of this ambitious and flawed project, where the work had started without any assured water source, mandatory environment clearances or even an administrative approval.
Complaints against this project, which will only hand out taxpayers money to favoured contractors without providing any water to parched Beed district, have been increasing with a section within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with activists now demanding this project be reviewed. Fadnavis admitted this saying there have been various complaints against the project, which will now be probed. “If allegations against the project are found to be true then we will scrap the project,’’ said the chief minister. This is the first time the government is considering scrapping the project even as the state water resources department has been defending the project before the Union environment ministry.
HT had exposed how a component of this project worth a Rs201 crore contract had been awarded to a firm, Pune based Raj Group, owned by Pawar’s maternal cousin, Jagdish Kadam. Records from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs had also shown that Kadam was a director in several companies associated with Pawar and his family, establishing financial transactions between the two. Sources said these deals ,if probed, can help investigating agencies establish a direct money trail between the minister and the contractor, so far not proven in either Konkan or Vidarbha irrigation projects so far.
“We have demanded this project be reviewed on both technical parameters and financial implications. It is clear there is no water for Ashti Lift irrigation, it is the last leg of the Krishna Marathwada project, so spending money on it would be waste of resources.It has also been shown that the project was cleared more to appease contractors, related to Pawar than actual irrigation,’’ said BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari.
Environmentalists and activists have also raised red flags against the project terming it ‘a pipe dream’. One of the project affected persons has also moved the National Green Tribunal against it. Activist Anjali Damania had last year sent complaints to the chief minister, governor and ED seeking a detailed probe into contracts given to Raj Group, including the Kuntephal storage tank, part of the Ashti Lift irrigation scheme, as the firm has business relations with Pawar.
The cost of the Krishna Marathwada lift irrigation project – includes three lift irrigation schemes – is worth Rs4,845 crore. It got an environmental clearance last year, even though there is no clarity on how it will source 23.66 TMC water required for the project from Ujjani and Krishna basin. The project in turn is dependent on a grander Rs13,000 crore Krishna Bhima stabilisation project that aims to divert 115 TMC waters from Krishna basin rivers to Ujjani through lifts and 200-odd tunnels. This project, however, does not have go ahead from the Krishna Water Tribunal. The state government, so far, has not challenged KWT, so the question about sourcing water for these projects is in limbo.